“Doused by Night” in LOOMING LOW

My story “Doused by Night” appears for the first time this month in the anthology, LOOMING LOW (Dim Shores, 2017).

Sometimes a story requires a lot of massaging and consideration before I can even start to write it, and sometimes even after that work the story requires further effort to tease out its voice and its meaning. Those stories can be tough to write, but it makes discussing them after the fact more interesting. There’s a chain of events, a rise and fall of action—in essence, the writing of the story is a story in and of itself.

Occasionally, though, there are stories that fall together somewhat easily. One sits down in front of the page and a story tumbles out. “Doused by Night” was like this, which means that my notes on the story when looking back are anemic at best. There’s just not much to tell beyond that it went through successive iterations until it reached a publishable state.

What I can say is that the goal for the story, at the outset, was to meld noir fiction and weird fiction. Despite how often we see this pairing, it never fails to amaze me how the two lenses view the world a similar way—with a deep and inherent mistrust. Noir mistrusts institutions and weird mistrusts existence, but both bristle at the forces that aim to control us. I wanted to explore this my own work, so as a seed I started with the idea of riffing on one of my favourite noir films, D.O.A., which tells the story of a man who discovers he has been incurably poisoned, and aims to solve the mystery of his murder in the final day he has left to live. It’s a great film (barely sullied by the remakes that have followed) and I thought it would make a great weird noir tale.

The only other aspect of the story that strikes me is how on occasion I’ll discover a story doesn’t intend to finish where I initially anticipated. Where I thought this story was headed turned out to be a different place altogether, which is never not exciting, just as it’s never not terrifying to experience. The only way to make it through is to forge ahead and find the spot where everything that needs telling gets told. The art can be in figuring out exactly where that spot is.

NecronomiCon 2017 Schedule

This August 17th through 20th I’ll be making my biennial pilgrimage down to Providence, Rhode Island, to participate in the programming for NecronomiCon, the International Festival of Weird Fiction, Art and Academia, as I’ve done every year since its founding.

This year marks an exciting change at the conference. Whereas in previous years the panels and talks have been focused primarily on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and his influences and influencers, this year the committee has chosen to open the topics to those more encompassing of the Weird, the Fantastic, the Fabulist. In short, what was once a convention for one subculture now encompasses many, and much like the fiction it celebrates, the conference finds itself filled with artists and topics that fit neither wholly within the World Horror Convention, or the World Fantasy Convention. It sits between them (even temporally, considering the time of year).

All this is to say it promises to be an exciting adventure for all those who attend.

As I mentioned, I’ll be there as part of the programming. The below outlines those events I’m committed to, but I’ll also be lurking the hallways of the various locales and ducking into the multitude of interesting panels throughout the weekend.

Without further ado, my schedule for the upcoming event:

  • Friday August 18th – 3:00-4:15pm: Shadows and Tall Trees Launch Party
    L’Apogee, Biltmore 17th Floor, with Robert Levy, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Michael Kelly, where I’ll be reading a short excerpt from my story “In the Tall Grass”.
  • Saturday, August 19th – 6:00-7:15pm: Looming Low Launch Party
    L’Apogee, Biltmore 17th Floor, with Michael Griffen, Livia Llewellyn, Anya Martin, Michael Wehunt, Justin Steele, and Sam Cowan, where I won’t be reading but instead hovering and showing my support as a contributor to the book.
  • Sunday, August 20th – 9-10:15am FABULISM IN CONTEMPORARY WEIRD FICTION
    Garden Room, Biltmore 2nd Floor, with Craig Gidney, J.T. Glover, Kij Johnson, Nnedi Okorafor, and Peter Straub, where I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on what Fabulism is and how it affects modern weird and strange horror fiction.
  • Sunday, August 20th – 3:00-4:15pm THE BLEAK OBLIQUE: Aickman’s Influence on Contemporary Horror
    Grand Ballroom, Biltmore 17th Floor, with Michael Cisco, Paul Di Filippo, Jack Haringa, and Steve Rasnic Tem, where I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on the work and life of Robert Aickman, one of the major influences on contemporary strange fiction.

I hope everyone who attends finds these discussions and events illuminating, and enjoys the full range of fantastic programming. I look forward to seeing you all there.

“In the Tall Grass” in SHADOWS & TALL TREES, VOL. 7

SHADOWS & TALL TREES, VOL. 7 (Undertow Publications, 2017), edited by the fantastic Michael Kelly, is now shipping, and it contains a new story from me entitled, “In the Tall Grass”.

When I first started the story, it was 1992, and I was thinking less about being a writer than I was about anything. I had only just left high school, and was unsure what I wanted from life. I knew I wanted to create things, but didn’t know if it would be through prose or pencils or paints or any of the myriad of mediums available to me. So, I indulged in them all to one degree or another, filling notepads with doodles and drawings and random snippets of poorly written prose and even more poorly written poetry. It was in one of these latter poems that I first dreamed about a sad parent and their tree-shaped boy.

Over the next few years, I added more and more to this story, layering short paragraphs on to it as though it were a papier-mâché sculpture. It never extended more than a few pages in length, but at the time it was my greatest and most involved project. Eventually, I started testing it in other mediums, creating paintings and drawings that might somehow capture the bittersweet story I hoped to tell, but never managed to.

Eventually, I left it behind. I didn’t forget about it, not really, but it became a story I told myself I would one day tell, if only I figured out how. And so it languished in the notebooks of my youth, patiently slumbering.

When Michael Kelly approached me about the return of SHADOWS & TALL TREES, and invited me to send him a story, I knew I needed something different from the cosmic weird fiction I’d written for my previous collection. Michael and S&TT needed something stranger and more fantastic than that, and it didn’t take me long to remember I had a story already partially written, one that had all the elements I knew he would like. All I needed to do, I was confident, was brush it up, add an ending, and it would be ready to go.

As is often the case with such plans, they went horribly wrong very quickly, starting from the beginning when I re-read what I’d written so many years previous and discovered how little of it was useable. In fact, now that the story has been told, I see I saved only a few lines from that original text. Around it, the story grew and branched in ways I didn’t expect, much like the boy at the centre of the tale. I also managed to fit in a scientific explanation for his state, something I’d stumbled across a few years ago and knew instantly what to do with.

“In the Tall Grass”, like many of my stories, is a story of loss. But I also think it’s a story of hope, and overcoming. And of coming to understand one’s place in the world. I’m proud it found a home in SHADOWS & TALL TREES, and I hope you buy a copy of the journal so you might read it, and read all the other wonderful work between its covers.

 

 

“The Fifth Stone” in NIGHTMARE’S REALM

 

nrWhen S. T. Joshi invited me to write a story for an anthology of dream-based weird fiction, I jumped at the chance. Not only because it was nice to break away from the Lovecraftian weird that was already past its due date in terms of freshness, but because writing fiction about dreams seemed right up my alley.

So, I wrote “The Fifth Stone” for NIGHTMARE’S REALM (Dark Regions, 2017) and sent it over to a great response.

Theme anthologies are funny things: the editor wants stories that fit in a specific box, but what readers respond to most are stories that surprise them. How can a reader be surprised about a vampire in a story published in a vampire anthology? Similarly, in writing a story about dreams, one can’t make the story turn on the presence of said dream. It needs to be approached in a different way. In “The Fifth Stone”, I chose to approach dream not from the typical angle of slumber, but instead through epileptic seizure. I think (and hope) this presents something different from what the reader expects.

I’d also wanted to tell a story with scope. Most of my stories take place over the course of a few hours or days, but I’ve always been enamoured by those that extend over a lifetime, and wanted to take a stab at it myself. And, as the starting point, I used the text of a short exercise I’d written once that I loved but was languishing in a folder of other ideas. It’s one of the reasons I continue to noodle around with experiments and exercises—because one never knows how useful they might be later.

Finally, the title is inspired by what may be my favourite short story title of all time: L. P. Hartley’s “The Third Grave”. Even now, typing it, it evokes so many story ideas in me. One day, I may even write one of them down.

“Scraps of Paper” in POSTSCRIPTS 34/35

ps35blog

I wrote “Scraps of Paper”, published last year in POSTSCRIPTS 34/35: BREAKOUT (PS Publishing, 2015), for another anthology, but I realized pretty quickly it wasn’t the right fit there. Frankly, I wasn’t sure where it would have been the right fit. Sort of horror, sort of noir, sort of urban fantasy, it seemed a little bit of everything, but not enough of anything for a good home. So, I did what anyone does when they have a hard-to-place spec-fic story: they turn to Postscripts. Pete Crowther took it immediately. Then, as far as I can tell, immediately forgot he had it. So it sat, waiting for its day in the sun for a couple of years, until finally someone remembered it. Which is lucky as it seems Postscripts has since shut its doors for the foreseeable future.

“Scraps of Paper” is another in the series of Owen Rake stories I’ve written, a series that I enjoy immensely even if it seems readers are generally ambivalent to his escapades (at least, based on the dearth of feedback I get regarding them). In this adventure, Owen encounters what is, in essence, a Golem, and who is introduced in a manner befitting a large creature of the night: charging forth with police officers falling off him. This image is not one that occurred to me out of thin air, but instead from an episode of the television program, “COPS”, once a guilty pleasure for me. The scene of the naked suspect fleeing, much as Grommell does here, was pressed into my brain, waiting for a story to one day set it free, unleashing it back into the world. One never knows what bits of information will one day form the spark of a story, which is why it’s strongly recommended aspiring writers explore the world as much as possible; one needs to fill the well with as many interesting things and experiences as possible.